The story focuses on Clover, a student vet played by Ellie Kendrick (seen as Meera Reed in HBO mega-hit Game of Thrones), who returns home after the sudden and unexpected death of her brother. She is not only forced to face the uncomfortable facts of events at the family farm during her absence but also her frayed relationship with her belligerent father, Aubrey, played by David Troughton.
The two actors are brilliant at quickly and quietly conveying their characters' messy complexity—their default mode of pride which allows them to say too little and their mounting and implacable sense of guilt at having let their lives unravel to such an extent. Mourning requires them to communicate all this and more but, as we see, that lesson is hard to learn. All this while trying to maintain the farm which is struggling to survive and which, of course, threatens their ability to do so too.
While the plot is slight, it is more than capable of supporting all the emotional weight Dickson Leach hangs on it. In fact, that The Levelling proceeds without a forward thrusting plot is one of its strengths. Although Clover's brother’s death and the shady circumstances surrounding it form its premise, the film is all the more compelling because it does not develop into a full-blown whodunnit but largely stays on Clover as she comes to terms with the past and grasp for the ties she has cut.
The same can be said for the film’s treatment of the larger context of the floods which are only mentioned a handful of times in the film and even then, in passing. Dickson Leach manages to distil all that desolation into brief interludes showcasing the local animals and cattle—hares swimming, cows wading through floodwater, for example—or, in contrast to the fly-on-the-wall shaky-hand camera work of the main story, fixed static landscapes which speak volumes through their silence. It is as if, like its characters, the film itself has things it wants to address but can’t quite.
The downside is that, although the economy of the storytelling is impressive, you do sense sometimes that the production has been squeezed. The frequent return to the trailer, the family’s temporary home where most of the heavy-hitting straight-talking confrontations happen, can induce, along with claustrophobia, a little sense of déjà vu which unfortunately manages to dilute the dramatic strength that these scenes otherwise might have had. But the accumulative impact of seeing the gradual dismantling of this dysfunctional family unit still manages to hit home.
All in all, The Levelling is a very special debut feature film with an intense lingering effect, driven by a seasoned actor who succeeds in cementing his reputation and, even more forcefully, by a strong combination of writer-director and lead actor who will both, it feels, be receiving invitations to Hollywood very soon. But for the sake of indie film, let's hope not too soon.
|What||The Levelling film review|
|Where||Various Locations | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Leicester Square (underground)|
12 May 17 – 12 Jan 20, Times Vary
|Price||£determined by cinema|
|Website||Click here for more details|